About gynocentrism

Gynocentrism n. (Greek, γυνή, “female” – Latin centrum, “centred” ) refers to a dominant or exclusive focus on women in theory or practice; or to the advocacy of this.1 Anything can be considered gynocentric (Adj.) when it is concerned exclusively with a female (or specifically a feminist) point of view.2

[see here for more dictionary definitions of gynocentrism]

Introduction

Cultural gynocentrism arose in Medieval Europe during a period cross-cultural influences and momentous changes in gendered customs. Beginning in around the 12th century European society birthed an intersection of Arabic practices of female worship, aristocratic courting trends, the Marian cult, along with the imperial patronage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her daughter Marie De Champagne who together crafted the military notion of chivalry into a notion of servicing ladies, a practice otherwise known as ‘courtly love.’

Courtly love was enacted by minstrels, playrights and troubadours, and especially via hired romance-writers like Chrétien de Troyes and Andreas Capellanus who laid down a model of romantic fiction that is still the biggest grossing genre of literature today. That confluence of factors generated the cultural conventions that continue to drive gynocentrism today.

Gynocentrism as a cultural phenomenon

The primary elements of gynocentric culture, as we experience it today, are derived from practices originating in medieval society such as feudalism, chivalry and courtly love that continue to inform contemporary society in subtle ways. Such gynocentric patters constitute a “sexual feudalism,” as attested by female writers like Lucrezia Marinella who in 1600 AD recounted that women of lower socioeconomic classes were treated as superiors by men who acted as servants or beasts born to serve them, or by Modesta Pozzo who in 1590 wrote;

“don’t we see that men’s rightful task is to go out to work and wear themselves out trying to accumulate wealth, as though they were our factors or stewards, so that we can remain at home like the lady of the house directing their work and enjoying the profit of their labors? That, if you like, is the reason why men are naturally stronger and more robust than us — they need to be, so they can put up with the hard labor they must endure in our service.”3

The golden casket above depicting scenes of servile behaviour toward women were typical of courtly love culture of the Middle Ages. Such objects were given to women as gifts by men seeking to impress. Note the woman standing with hands on hips in a position of authority, and the man being led around by a neck halter, his hands clasped in a position of subservience.

It’s clear that much of what we today call gynocentrism was invented in the Middle Ages with the cultural practices of romantic chivalry and courtly love. In 12th century Europe, feudalism served as the basis for a new model for love in which men were to play the role of vassal to women who played the role of an idealized Lord.

C.S. Lewis, back in the middle of the 20th Century, referred to this historical revolution as “the feudalisation of love,” and stated that it has left no corner of our ethics, our imagination, or our daily life untouched. “Compared with this revolution,” states Lewis, “the Renaissance is a mere ripple on the surface of literature.”4 Lewis further states;

“Everyone has heard of courtly love, and everyone knows it appeared quite suddenly at the end of the eleventh century at Languedoc. The sentiment, of course, is love, but love of a highly specialized sort, whose characteristics may be enumerated as Humility, Courtesy, and the Religion of Love. The lover is always abject. Obedience to his lady’s lightest wish, however whimsical, and silent acquiescence in her rebukes, however unjust, are the only virtues he dares to claim. Here is a service of love closely modelled on the service which a feudal vassal owes to his lord. The lover is the lady’s ‘man’. He addresses her as midons, which etymologically represents not ‘my lady’ but ‘my lord’. The whole attitude has been rightly described as ‘a feudalisation of love’. This solemn amatory ritual is felt to be part and parcel of the courtly life.” 5

With the advent of (initially courtly) women being elevated to the position of ‘Lord’ in intimate relationships, and with this general sentiment diffusing to the masses and across much of the world today, we are justified in talking of a gynocentric cultural complex that affects, among other things, relationships between men and women. Further, unless evidence of widespread gynocentric culture can be found prior to the Middle Ages, then  gynocentrism is precisely 800 years old. In order to determine if this thesis is valid we need to look further at what we mean by “gynocentrism”.

The term gynocentrism has been in circulation since the 1800’s, with the general definition being “focused on women; concerned with only women.”6 From this definition we see that gynocentrism could refer to any female-centered practice, or to a single gynocentric act carried out by one individual. There is nothing inherently wrong with a gynocentric act (eg. celebrating Mother’s Day) , or for that matter an androcentric act (celebrating Father’s Day). However when a given act becomes instituted in the culture to the exclusion of other acts we are then dealing with a hegemonic custom — i.e. such is the relationship custom of elevating women to the position of men’s social, moral or spiritual superiors.

Author of Gynocentrism Theory Adam Kostakis has attempted to expand the definition of gynocentrism to refer to “male sacrifice for the benefit of women” and “the deference of men to women,” and he concludes; “Gynocentrism, whether it went by the name honor, nobility, chivalry, or feminism, its essence has gone unchanged. It remains a peculiarly male duty to help the women onto the lifeboats, while the men themselves face a certain and icy death.”7

While we can agree with Kostakis’ descriptions of assumed male duty, the phrase gynocentric culture more accurately carries his intention than gynocentrism alone. Thus when used alone in the context of this website gynocentrism refers to part or all of gynocentric culture, which is defined here as any culture instituting rules for gender relationships that benefit females at the expense of males across a broad range of measures.

At the base of gynocentric culture lies the practice of enforced male sacrifice for the benefit of women. If we accept this definition we must look back and ask whether male sacrifices throughout history were always made for the sake women, or alternatively for the sake of some other primary goal? For instance, when men went to die in vast numbers in wars, was it for women, or was it rather for Man, King, God and Country? If the latter we cannot then claim that this was a result of some intentional gynocentric culture, at least not in the way I have defined it here. If the sacrifice isn’t intended directly for the benefit women, even if women were occasional beneficiaries of male sacrifice, then we are not dealing with gynocentric culture.

Male utility and disposability strictly “for the benefit of women” comes in strongly only after the advent of the 12th century gender revolution in Europe – a revolution that delivered us terms like gallantry, chivalry, chivalric love, courtesy, damsels, romance and so on. From that period onward gynocentric practices grew exponentially, culminating in the demands of today’s feminist movement. In sum, gynocentrism (ie. gynocentric culture) was a patchy phenomenon at best before the middle ages, after which it became ubiquitous.

With this in mind it makes little sense to talk of gynocentric culture starting with the industrial revolution a mere 200 years ago (or 100 or even 30 yrs ago), or of it being two million years old as some would argue. We are not only fighting two million years of genetic programming; our culturally constructed problem of gender inequity is much simpler to pinpoint and to potentially reverse. All we need do is look at the circumstances under which gynocentric culture first began to flourish and attempt to reverse those circumstances. Specifically, that means rejecting the illusions of romantic love (feudalised love), along with the practices of misandry, male shaming and servitude that ultimately support it.

La Querelle des Femmes, and advocacy for women

The Querelle des Femmes translates as the “quarrel about women” and amounts to what we might today call a gender-war. The querelle had its beginning in twelfth century Europe and finds its culmination in the feminist-driven ideology of today (though some authors claim, unconvincingly, that the querelle came to an end in the 1700s). The basic theme of the centuries-long quarrel revolved, and continues to revolve, around advocacy for the rights, power and status of women, and thus Querelle des Femmes serves as the originating title for gynocentric discourse.

If we consider the longevity of this revolution we might be inclined to agree with Barbarossaaa’s claim “that feminism is a perpetual advocacy machine for women”.

To place the above events into a coherent timeline, chivalric servitude toward women was elaborated and given patronage first under the reign of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1137-1152) and instituted culturally throughout Europe over the subsequent 200 year period. After becoming thus entrenched on European soil there arose the Querelle des Femmes which refers to the advocacy culture that arose for protecting, perpetuating and increasing female power in relation to men that continues, in an unbroken tradition, in the efforts of contemporary feminism.8

Writings from the Middle Ages forward are full of testaments about men attempting to adapt to the feudalisation of love and the serving of women, along with the emotional agony, shame and sometimes physical violence they suffered in the process. Gynocentric chivalry and the associated querelle have not received much elaboration in men’s studies courses to-date, but with the emergence of new manuscripts and quality English translations it may be profitable to begin blazing this trail.9

References

1. Oxford English Dictionary – Vers.4.0 (2009), Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199563838
2. Oxford English Dictionary 2010
3. Modesta Pozzo, The Worth of Women: their Nobility and Superiority to Men
4. C.S. Lewis, Friendship, chapter in The Four Loves, HarperCollins, 1960
5. C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love, Oxford University Press, 1936
6. Dictionary.com – Gynocentric
7. Adam Kostakis, Gynocentrism Theory – (Published online, 2011). Although Kostakis assumes gynocentrism has been around throughout recorded history, he singles out the Middle Ages for comment: “There is an enormous amount of continuity between the chivalric class code which arose in the Middle Ages and modern feminism… One could say that they are the same entity, which now exists in a more mature form – certainly, we are not dealing with two separate creatures.”
8. Joan Kelly, Early Feminist Theory and the Querelle des Femmes (1982), reprinted in Women, History and Theory, UCP (1984)
9. The New Male Studies Journal has published thoughtful articles touching on the history and influence of chivalry in the lives of males.

Masculinity & Femininity are Plural

By Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig

“It should be clear that there is not only one masculine archetype and one feminine archetype. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of feminine and masculine archetypes. Certainly there are many more of them than we usually imagine. But not all archetypes are dominant at a particular period in the life of an individual. Moreover, every historical epoch has its dominant masculine and feminine archetypes. Women and men are determined in their sexual identities and behavior by only a select number of archetypes.

Behavior is determined only by those patterns that are momentarily dominant in the collective psyche. This leads to a grotesque but understandable error: the archetypes that dominate masculine and feminine behavior in a particular time come to be understood as the masculine and feminine archetypes. And from this limited number of archetypes it is decided what “masculinity” and “femininity” are. This misunderstanding has led, for example, to the assumption in Jungian psychology that masculinity is identical with Logos, and femininity with Eros. It is assumed that the essence of femininity is personal, related to one’s fellow man, passive, masochistic, and that the essence of masculinity is abstract, intellectual, aggressive, sadistic, active, etc. This naïve assertion could have been made only because the masculine and feminine archetypes that were dominant at that time and in that culture were understood as the only valid ones.”

SOURCE: Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig, A., Marriage Is Dead – Long Live Marriage! (1976)

The Dogma of Gender – by Patricia Berry

 

The Dogma of Gender was first delivered as a public lecture in the autumn of 1977 at the Royal Society of Medicine, London, England, under the sponsorship of the Guild of Pastoral Psychology. The article was first published by Spring Publications, in Spring Journal 1982, and later in the volume of compiled essays Echo’s Subtle Body.

Written by one of the founders of Archetypal Psychology, the article has proven itself timeless over the 45 years since it was first penned, becoming even more relevant today for understanding the fantasies that might be at work in the ‘gender debates’ that rage on unchecked. 

The essay is republished at gynocentrism.com with permission of the rights holder and author, Patricia Berry

The Religion of Romantic Love

EROS, AGAPĒ, AMOR

By Joseph Campbell

In theological sermons we are used to hearing of a great distinction between fleshly and spiritual love, eros and agapē. The contrast and conflict were already recognized and argued by the early Christian Fathers and have been argued ever since. An important point to be recognized, however, is that the ideal of love, amor, of the lovers and poets of the Middle Ages corresponded to neither of these.

In the words, for example, of the troubadour Giraut de Borneil, “Love is born of the eyes and the heart” (Tam cum los oills el cor ama parvenza): the eyes recommend a specific image to the heart, and the heart, “the noble heart,” responds. That is to say, this love is specific, discriminative, personal, and elite. Eros, on the other hand, is indiscriminate, biological: the urge, one might say, of the organs. And agapē, too, is indiscriminate: Love thy neighbor (whoever he may be) as thyself. Whereas, here, in the sentiment and experience of amor, we have something altogether new—European—individual. And I know of nothing like it, earlier, anywhere in the world.

The aim in the European “cult” (if we may call it that) of amor was not in any sense ego extinction in a realization of nonduality, but the opposite: ego-ennoblement and -enrichment through an altogether personal experience of love’s poignant pain—“love’s sweet bitterness and bitter sweetness,” to quote Gottfried—in willing affirmation of the irremediable yearning that animates all relationships in this passing world of ephemeral individuation.

It is true that in the doctrine of love represented by the Troubadours marriage was not only of no interest but actually contrary to the whole feeling, and that likewise in India, the highest type of love, from the point of view of the Sahajiya cult, was not of husband and wife, but (to quote one authority), “the love that exists most privately between couples, who are absolutely free in their love from any consideration of loss and gain, who defy society and transgress the law and make love the be-all of life.”

It is almost certainly not by mere coincidence that the greatest Indian poetic celebration of this ideal of adulterous (parakīya) love—namely the Gītā Govinda (“Song of the Cowherd”) of the young poet Jayadeva—is of a date exactly contemporary with the flowering in Europe of the Tristan romance (c. A.D. 1175). A moment’s comparison of the two romances, however, immediately sets apart the two worlds of spiritual life. The Indian lover, Kṛṣṇa, is a god; the European, Tristan, a man.

The Indian work is allegorical of the yearning of flesh (symbolized in Radha) for the spirit and of spirit (symbolized in Kṛṣṇa) for the flesh, or, in Coomaraswamy’s terms, symbolic of “the ‘mystic union’ of the finite with its infinite ambient”; whereas the European poets, Thomas of Britain (c. 1185), Eilhart von Oberge (c. 1190), Béroul (c. 1200), and Gottfried von Strassburg (c. 1210), the four leading masters of the Tristan cycle, have represented the lovers as human, all too human—overwhelmed by a daemonic power greater than themselves.

In the poems of the first three, the power of the potion, the releaser of the passion, is treated simply as of magic. In Gottfried’s work, on the other hand, a religious dimension opens—heretical and dangerous—when he states, and states again, that the power is of the goddess Minne (Love). And then, moreover, to ensure his point, when the lovers flee to the forest, he brings them to a secret grotto of the goddess, described explicitly as an ancient heathen chapel of love’s purity, and with a bed—a wondrous crystalline bed— in the place of the Christian altar.

___________________________________________________________________________

Excerpt from: Campbell, Joseph., The Flight Of The Wild Gander – 1969

The Near-Irresistible Lure of Damseling

The Near-Irresistible Lure of Damseling

By Janice Fiamengo

Well over a century ago, our ancestors debated women’s demand for voting and other privileges. Traditionalists argued that women faced a choice: they could either have special treatment on the basis of their alleged vulnerability as a group, or they could have political equality, but they couldn’t have both. Lo and behold, women got both, with peculiar results for our political culture.

In our time, the performance of powerlessness has become a dominant strategy of power, nowhere more evident than in politics. “I’ve been traumatized” is now a more galvanizing cry than “I can handle that”—and trembling weakness often eclipses demonstration of strength and competence.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s accusers have reproduced the standard victim script with word perfect fidelity, claiming that relatively benign, or certainly minor, actions such as kissing on the cheek, suggestive remarks, and too-long hugging left them “confused and shocked and embarrassed” or, as one stated, feeling reduced to being “just a skirt.” One accuser has related how Cuomo put his hand on her back and asked to kiss her at a wedding two years ago. The now formulaic expressions of woundedness reminded me of Atlantic magazine writer Tina Dupuy, who alleged in a 2017 article that Senator Al Franken had once, years before, squeezed her waist during a photo op at a Media Matters party, and that the squeeze had left her feeling “no longer a person.”

Notwithstanding a few notable exceptions like black actor Jussie Smollett, who teared up on cue for Good Morning America while discussing his alleged assault by noose-wielding MAGA men, the performance of quivering hurt is far more likely to be used with success by women, and the past few years have brought a plethora of enactments of feminine fragility: demands for apologies, declarations of fear and shame, and the demand that tales of trauma be believed, all appealing to the in-group empathy of women and the chivalric impulses of men.

What other than in-group empathy and chivalry can explain a phenomenon like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s stubborn insistence on the implausible trauma she suffered during the January 6th storming of the U.S. Capitol building?

AOC has outlined in detail, in a video of one and a half hour’s painfully self-absorbed length, how she was convinced that “Everything—was—over” as she hid in her office waiting for Trump supporters to come for her. It didn’t matter that she was not near the epicentre of unrest, and that the voice she heard that so terrified her was that of a Capitol police officer rather than a rioter.

One might expect her to hesitate to share her fears once it had been revealed that she was never really under any threat at all. But instead, AOC doubled down, linking her Capitol ordeal to her experience years before as an alleged victim of sexual assault.

According to her logic, what actually happened to her in the Capitol complex doesn’t really matter; only what she felt. And anyone who doubts what she felt—or doubts her right to use that feeling for political leverage–is someone with contempt for the recurring trauma of survivors like her.

What is perhaps most striking about AOC’s hour and a half long video is her very deliberate self-infantilization as she plays up the non-rational elements of her response.

Her story is told to the camera as if for the first time—though of course it was filmed weeks after the event and presumably was much-rehearsed. There are long pauses while she seems to search for a word or is overcome by emotion while remembering.

The appearance of spontaneity, of in-the-moment visceral intensity, is almost perfectly mastered, and in that sense it is an Oscar worthy enactment.

AOC’s voice frequently trembles with seemingly irrepressible emotion as tears well up in her eyes. Sometimes within a very short time, she moves from near-tears to smiles and laughter. At moments she appears lost in thought, unconscious of the camera, gazing out of the frame as if consumed by feeling; at other moments her glance is directly to the camera lens, inviting soul-to-soul intimacy.

The performance is about as far as could be imagined from the rationality and self-control—and above all the calm strength, the inner power–that one would traditionally have expected from a politician, someone responsible for conducting the nation’s business. It is a performance of youth, certainly, and even more so of deep feminine vulnerability and emotional volatility—far more appropriate to a 16-year-old high school girl—and even then an immature and narcissistic one–than a 31-year-old congressional representative who proposes and votes on federal legislation.

Such a self-performance, which is certainly not confined to AOC, raises troubling questions about the impact on public life of women, and men to a lesser extent, who define themselves by their experience of trauma and claim authenticity on the basis of powerful feelings beyond their control.

If AOC cannot be counted upon to respond rationally in a moment of minimal or merely imagined danger, how can she be counted upon to do the people’s business at all? Being a member of the House of Representatives requires tough-mindedness and resilience. Accusations and personal attacks—though not physical attacks—are a normal part of the job. Hysteria and over-reaction –as in accusing Ted Cruz publicly of trying to kill her—interfere with the focus and maturity necessary for the work of government.

AOC’s justification of her fear is damning: “When we encounter such a terrifying moment,” she explains, “we respond with the entirety of our life experience.” In other words, AOC admits that the moment was terrifying because she couldn’t separate her previous experience of alleged assault from her current perception.

Note how glibly she speaks of herself not as a rational individual in control of her own responses but as a member of a pre-determined collective, in this case the identity group ‘female survivor.’ She admits that, as a female survivor she cannot help how she responds to an unsettling situation. The embrace of the hysterical feminine—and not as a moment of weakness overcome but as a deliberate strategy of power—should be profoundly alarming to all who care about the future of western democracies.

It is always easy enough for rationality to be lost inadvertently in the midst of heated political argument—but it’s a calamity when it is deliberately rejected. And that’s where we’re at now, at a time when women’s public tears and professions of fragility have been granted unprecedented political power.

There have always been women who understood the equivocal power of feminine weakness and warned against it. Canadian journalist Sara Jeannette Duncan, a skeptical supporter of the women’s movement, wrote in the Toronto Globe newspaper in 1885 about the double-edged sword of a woman’s public tears: they got results, certainly, but they detracted from the intellectual self-discipline necessary for productive political engagement.

“Nothing is more unconsciously dramatic than a woman’s outcry against a suffering which is often hers through no fault of her own,” Duncan wrote, “But if she asks the ballot by virtue of her ability to sorrow eloquently […] it seems to me that she will be sorely puzzled to know what to do with it when it is hers” (Toronto Globe, 15 July 1885, p. 3). If women wished to be treated as political equals, Duncan advised, they would have to overcome their reliance on postures of eloquent sorrow.

Many of Duncan’s feminist contemporaries, however, embraced claims of female emotional superiority, alleging that maleness was responsible for war, cruelty, and inequality.

Widely admired Canadian feminist Nellie McClung addressed the question of what she called “The New Chivalry” in her 1915 book In Times Like These. “People tell us now that chivalry is dead, and women have killed it,” she quipped at the start. She was referring to the idea, quite common at the time she wrote, that women’s entry into public life would destroy their special status as a protected class.

When the British vessel Titanic sank in April 1912 with enormous loss of life, 74% of the women on board were rescued as compared to only 20% of the men. Men deliberately stood back, giving up places on life boats and accepting their own deaths so that women could be saved. They did so in part because they knew that to survive a disaster like the Titanic sinking while leaving women to drown was to be permanently disgraced. Such was the power of chivalry, as a concept and a living reality, in British and North American society.

McClung makes no reference to the Titanic sinking in her discussion of chivalry—though the disaster was very much a recent memory.

She dismissed chivalry as a romantic notion far more honored as an idea than as an actual practice. Yes, beautiful women have always had an easy time of it, she admitted, but the notion that women are protected as a whole is little more than a pretty theory. She asserted this at the very time that young men were being maimed and killed by the hundreds of thousands in the trenches of Europe while some of their female counterparts discussed voting rights. McClung actually had the gall to argue that when women had the right to vote, war itself would become a thing of the past because war was in her words, “a crime committed by men” that would end “when women are allowed to say what they think of war.” Up until now, she alleged with a sarcastic dig at chivalry, “women have had nothing to say about war, except to pay the price of [it]” (15).

According to McClung, what women wanted was justice, not chivalry: not men’s gallantry, not men’s sympathy, but the right to represent their interests and pursue professional careers in the same way men did. This would be, she said, a “fair deal” (42). Significantly, though, she did not reject chivalry altogether, saying that “Chivalry is a poor substitute for justice, if one cannot have both.” In the fair society of McClung’s vision, women should have equal rights but should also have special rights as women when appropriate.

And it turns out that special rights are often deemed appropriate—perhaps more now than ever before. The temptation to act the damsel in distress appears near-irresistible.

When women occupy positions of political power, the media is ablaze with stories about the feminine qualities they allegedly bring to their positions—according to a recent article in the left-wing academic journal The Conversation, their empathy, ability to work collaboratively, communication skills, openness, and inclusivity.

But one quality conspicuously lacking is the ability to resist playing the damsel.

In my home province of British Columbia, the chief health officer is a woman named Bonnie Henry, an unelected official who has exercised extraordinary, often devastating power during the COVID pandemic, deciding whether schools could open, which businesses were essential, how many people could gather, and whether protests were legitimate, all with a soft quavering voice and endless promises of just a few more weeks as the axe fell regularly on citizens’ freedoms and livelihoods. She has generally been very popular, her saintly image memorialized in a public mural and a musical ode.

But at the first sign of criticism, the vulnerable damsel has emerged onto the public scene.

In the middle of the pandemic when most people, on her advice, were isolating in their bubbles, Henry took part in a panel discussion about women in leadership , and made much of her own suffering, singling out the “death threats,” “nasty notes,” “phone calls,” and “harassment” she had allegedly received, and suggesting that “people find that it’s OK to do that for a woman who’s up front more so than some of our male leaders” though she followed that with “But I could be wrong.” Fortunately for Henry, it doesn’t matter whether female leaders are attacked more often or more viciously than male leaders (actually they’re not)—a chorus of chivalric experts are always happy to chime in about women’s special suffering, and Bonnie Henry, suffering to the tune of $360,000 a year while peons lost their businesses, stoked public sympathy even while wasting precious pandemic time appearing on a panel to damsel about how hard it is to be her.

It’s a now standard part of gender politics—endless claims and controversies about sexism, endless rounds of demands for apology, apologies offered, apologies refused, apologies accepted but criticized as inadequate, and so on. Just a few weeks ago, Canadian newspapers ignited with inflammatory headlines such as “Ford owes apology to every woman in Ontario after hurling ‘sexist’ comment, Horwath says.” Readers could be forgiven for assuming that the Conservative leader of Ontario, Doug Ford, must have said—or rather ‘hurled’–something outrageous if it required not only an apology to Horwath, the feminist leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, but to every one of the millions of women in the province. It turned out that during a back and forth in the provincial parliament, Ford had said, “It’s like listening to nails on a chalkboard listening to you.”

An extraordinary number of journalistic words were spent hyperventilating about the alleged misogyny of the outburst, and Horwath couldn’t resist the halo it offered her as a deeply wounded but valiant champion of womankind; later that day, she tweeted out a message to all women advising them: “Don’t let anyone try to tell you you don’t belong at Queen’s Park,” though there had been no suggestion that she didn’t belong (at the provincial legislature). “I’m going to continue making positive proposals to give people the help and hope they need to get through this pandemic.” If she were really so deeply concerned about constituents affected by the pandemic, she might have thought it frivolous to waste an entire day fussing about her alleged hurt feelings.

But that is the nature of the female politician these days, consumed with thoughts of self, narcissistic displays, allegations of harm, and demands that others recognize the uniqueness of female suffering.

The notable confusion in our societies is highlighted every time an allegation of gendered trauma or necessity for gendered apology is raised. Do women require kid gloves treatment in the public sphere, or not? Are their feelings more delicate than men’s when it comes to personal remarks and perception of threat, or not? If the answer to these questions is no, then why do female politicians not say so loud and clear? If the answer is yes—women do require kid gloves treatment—then why do we continue to pretend that women today seek equality of opportunity?

The fact is that women’s ability to demand equality when it suits them and special treatment when that suits them is a ridiculous and corrosive distraction. Women’s claims of victimhood take a great deal of time and energy away from many pressing issues, and create an uneven political playing field in which every man knows he can be wrong-footed, and every woman knows she can power trip if she wants to. The damsel option disinclines some women from whole-heartedly pursuing competence because they know they can deflect criticism or gain advancement by sorrowing eloquently, creating bad faith in many women, suspicion and resentment in many men.

Until it becomes an actual political disability to claim weakness and demand apologies—our public culture will continue to be held hostage by the damsels among us.

Links

The Power Of Stories

*The following speech was delivered by Elizabeth Hobson at the 2020 digital International Conference on Men’s Issues (ICMI) (shortened version).

We inhabit a world of things – literally observable objects and facts, and, for the MRA, literally measurable evidence of male disadvantage. And we MRAs collectively do a good and necessary job of measuring and cataloguing such disadvantages. It escapes none of us however, though our evidence is required (and should be), that feminists are not held to the same standards.

That feminists can assert the most outrageous untruths, without challenge. That baseless feminist conspiracy theories, fantasies, lies, delusions and myths are simply believed. The reason for this is simple: as much as a world of things, we live in a world of stories (Peterson, 2018).

Mythologies, archetypes and expectations help us to organise information. We can’t expect to be able to rationally sift through each piece of data that we’re exposed to, so we categorise constantly: of interest/not of interest, in line with what we would expect/anomalous (Sowell, 1987).1 And feminism has been uniquely deft at creating compelling stories that people can internalise, which act as shields against further investigation of their claims.

If this sounds malevolent: that’s because it is. Feminists misuse the power of stories to circumvent the logical appraisal that should accompany policy lobbying and establishment. Feminists misuse the power of stories to breed resentment instead of love between men and women. Feminists misuse the power of stories to justify hate-filled and supremacist intentions as recompense for centuries of “sex-based oppression”.

And the fact is that feminism has advantages in the story-weaving game. Our species’ innate gynocentrism, our gender empathy gap and our evolutionary perceptions of men (the genetic filter, to be policed) and women (the limiting factor in reproduction, to be protected) allows us to zero-in on female disadvantage and to ignore male disadvantage, to view the world through blinkered eyes through the lens of the female experience, to believe in an innate badness in men!

But we MRAs have advantages also… We can share stories that enrich the psyches of our audiences with gratitude and love for men, and respect for women. We can share stories that are exponentially closer to the truth than those sordid webs that feminists create. Stories backed by facts, but stories that can be internalised by a significant proportion of the public; and weaponised so that no longer will feminist rhetoric be taken at face value. So that the playing field will be levelled and the standards of evidence that we accept as the bare minimum required for MRAs to advocate – will also apply to feminists.

This is why I believe in the power of stories to deliver justice for men and boys (and the women who love them).

Feelings don’t care about your facts

Stories frequently succeed in arousing strong feelings, like when we read a novel and become moved to tears or anger, or when we see scenes in a movie which make our skin crawl, give goose bumps, or make our hair stand on its proverbial end. Such strong feelings, and the stories that generate them, seem to put a lie to the popular phrase “Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings”. The reverse seems more likely in evidence, even when we know that a fantasy novel or movie is not factually real – our feelings remain dominant.

This is why old-world mythologies, complete with kooky beliefs, have flourished and sustained large civilizations – civilizations which thrived and expanded under the guiding influence of those same unfactual stories. Even when the stories promote a geocentric universe with a flat earth, or mythical gods requiring human sacrifices, deadly wars or violence over the divinely mandated length of men’s beards, or whether a woman’s mandated head covering is pleasing to the divine powers. You would think these things would cause a civilization to collapse and die out, however it appears that those more rational civilizations who deconstruct myths have birth rates plummeting whilst cultures based in fanciful stories enjoy explosive birth rates.

Perhaps it’s time to consider the painful possibility that feelings don’t always care about our facts. That’s certainly the case in many cultures, and it may indeed be a default setting of human beings generally – we are story creatures, and facts are often seen as an affront that offends both the stories we believe in and feelings associated with them.

Writing in the year 1984,2 professor emeritus of communication Walter R. Fisher explored these two approaches to reality – the approaches of both story and rationality – and named them 1. ‘the narrative paradigm’ and 2. ‘the rational world paradigm.’

Fisher describes the narrative paradigm in much the same way as I am in this talk; as a reflection of the fact that we use stories to communicate with each other, and to provide a shared map of meaning among a group of people.

Stories help by gathering the scattered bric-a-brac of everyday existence and combining it into a coherent whole, or what we might refer to as a template, that we use to orient ourselves and our goals in harmony with the shared orientation and goals of others. In short stories provide us with a shareable world.

As we have seen, religious stories and folk tales, can be both benevolent by way of organizing the masses into a harmonious moral unit, or they can be destructive as we see in stories promoting warfare against innocent nations, and even those stories which, today, promote gender wars.

What Fisher refers to alternatively as the ‘rational world paradigm’ consists in five presuppositions, which I can paraphrase as: 1. That humans are essentially rational beings, 2. That human decision-making and communication is a form of argument depending on clear-cut inferential and implicative structure, 3. That the conduct of such argument is ruled by legal, scientific and legislative dictates (etc), 4. That rationality is determined by subject matter knowledge, argumentative ability, and skill in employing the rules of advocacy in given fields, and finally, 5. The world is a set of logical puzzles which can be resolved through logical analysis and application of reason conceived as an argumentative construct.

Fisher notes the frequent failure of the rational world paradigm in the modern context, and goes on to conclude that:

This failure suggests to me that the problem in restoring rationality to everyday argument may be the assumption that the reaffirmation of the rational world paradigm is the only solution. The position I am taking is that another paradigm may offer a better solution, one that will provide substance not only for public moral argument, but also all other forms of argument, for human communication in general. My answer to the second question then, is: “Yes I think so.”

Adoption of the narrative paradigm, I hasten to repeat, does not mean rejection of all the good work that has been done; it means a rethinking of it and investigating new moves that can be made to enrich our understanding of communicative interaction. 2

What Fisher refers to as “Investigating new moves” is something the men’s issues community might also take on board – specifically that stories and the feelings they evoke can be used as a form of communication to address the wrongs of gynocentrism and misandry we have been working so hard on, with limited successes, via the rational mode of argumentation and data recitations.

The narrative communication paradigm, or more simply the use of stories, has been criticised from a rational perspective when applied to scientific or legal issues, with the charge being that there is no way to make a choice between two equally coherent narratives. This is a valid complaint, but not one that practitioners of the rational world paradigm completely escape – this due to their frequent preferencing of one set of data over another, of placing the accent on one set of findings while neglecting others – a tendency that renders “rationalist” conclusions more subjective than they might like to admit – just like those of the story tellers.

Ultimately the rational and narrative approaches need to work in tandem if we wish to provide strong results, but at present the men’s movement has been wary of narrative approaches due to their tendency to subjectivity and corruption. Unfortunately, storytelling remains the preferred mode of communication and decision-making of the human species, therefore we can’t simply wish it away as irrelevant because that would be to deny the fact that humans have evolved to be narrative creatures – Homo Narrans – who preference communication via stories. It is a biological and evolutionary fact, so it isn’t going away, and hating it will do little to change its biological necessity.

If story is here to stay, then we need to enter the fray. We need to get down into the alphabet soup and wrestle with those destructive narratives perpetuated by feminists and others who would reduce men and boys to a tiny fraction of their lived experience. This can be done by challenging any element of the dominant gender narratives currently circulating – by amending the stories to conclude the male hero is “good” rather than “toxic,” or by crafting new stories altogether that incorporate the positive experiences of men and boys.

That is my challenge to you all today: not to do away with rational or data-based approaches, but to broaden them by offering new endings to the destructive stories currently on offer, re-narrating them, or by telling new stories in ways so compelling and emotionally moving that they displace the destructive ones currently on offer.

Sources:

[1] Sowell, T. (2002). A conflict of visions: Ideological origins of political struggles. Basic Books (AZ).

[2] Fisher, W. R. (1984). Narration as a human communication paradigm: The case of public moral argument. Communications Monographs51(1), 1-22.

Two Modes of Damseling

E.B. Bax outlined two forms of damseling, one appearing as “simple weakness,” and the other as “aggressive weakness.” In his view simple weakness deserves consideration on its merits, whereas aggressive weakness deserves no assistance.

“For modern Feminists of the sentimental school, the distinction is altogether lost sight of between weakness as such and aggressive weakness. Now I submit there is a very considerable difference between what is due to weakness that is harmless and unprovocative, and weakness that is aggressive, still more when this aggressive weakness presumes on itself as weakness, and on the consideration that might be extended to it, in order to become tyrannical and oppressive. Weakness as such assuredly deserves all consideration, but aggressive weakness deserves none save to be crushed beneath the iron heel of strength. Woman at the present day has been encouraged by a Feminist public opinion to become meanly aggressive under the protection of her weakness. She has been encouraged to forge her gift of weakness into a weapon of tyranny against man, unwitting that in so doing she has deprived her weakness of all just claim to consideration or even to toleration.” Chapter 5: The “Chivalry” Fake, in The Fraud of Feminism (1913)

Whether real or purely fabricated, these displays of vulnerability represent the two main faces or modes of enacting the damsel-in-distress archetype. Both begin their display with an announcement of vulnerability and powerlessness, but their ways of enlisting assistance differ considerably. The simple damsel invites assistance by displaying utter helplessness, imparting a sense of inadequacy, impotence and a complete lack of agency to deal with the situation responsible for her distress. The aggressive damsel, on the other hand, angrily denounces the forces assailing her, and demands redress with bitter and vindictive calls for the world to exact revenge on her behalf.

Unlike the simple damsel, the aggressive damsel feels unable to attract chivalric reinforcements via the simple act of broadcasting her helplessness. Thus, she loudly seeks the attention of men and governments, demanding they provide chivalric redress for whatever ‘distress’ is assailing her. This kind of damsel relies particularly on governments to address her grievances, and she is likely the kind of woman that John Stuart Mill, an advocate of feminism, had in mind when he wrote the following;

“From the moral influence exercised by women arose the spirit of chivalry … a special submission and worship directed towards women, who were distinguished from the other defenceless classes by the high rewards which they had it in their power voluntarily to bestow on those who endeavoured to earn their favour, instead of extorting their subjection.

Chivalry left without legal check all those forms of wrong which reigned unpunished throughout society; it only encouraged a few to do right in preference to wrong, by the direction it gave to the instruments of praise and admiration. But the real dependence of morality must always be upon its penal sanctions – its power to deter from evil… The beauties and graces of the chivalrous character are still what they were, but the rights of the weak, and the general comfort of human life, now rest on a far surer and steadier support.” [John Stuart MillThe Subjection of Women 1869]

Many readers will recognise Bax’s simple weakness in the behaviour of traditional gynocentric women, and likewise will recognize aggressive weakness in the behaviours of feminist women. However, contrary to Bax’s trusting view of non-aggressive displays of weakness, readers might recognize that these too can amount to manufactured displays of weakness every bit as manipulative and undeserving of assistance as that of aggressive weakness.

To labor this theme a little further, we also find these two modes of enacting the damsel within classical mythology, long before our modern world learned to exploit the victim routine for personal advancement. The two goddesses who best represent these positions are Persephone, the simple damsel who was abducted and victimised by Hades without ever showing personal agency of her own, and yet her helplessness alone provoked widespread efforts to save her, and secondly the goddess Hera, wife of Zeus who was forever seething in a sense of victimhood and grievance, while seeking cosmic vengeance toward those who wronged her. For more on these classical archetypes I recommend the YouTube channel of Greta Aurora who has made many videos exploring the victim complexes of these goddesses, along with explorations of many other archetypal figures.

The Origins of Damseling

The origins of damseling are biologically-based and are as old as the human race. Technically speaking, the behaviour we refer to as damseling refers to a human being who announces its vulnerability to others – to husband, family, friend, stranger or to one’s tribe.

The announcement of vulnerability stimulates a neurological system in the brain designed to provoke reflexes of protection, caretaking and nurturance of vulnerable children and infants. However, the same neurological system can be provoked by adults who find themselves in a vulnerable situation, or by adults feigning vulnerability in order to acquire resources of protection, provision, and especially, comfort. While such vulnerability can be displayed by any human, whether a child or adult of either sex, when we use the word damseling it refers especially to adult women who engage in theatrical versions of these behaviours.

The word “damsel” derives from the French demoiselle, meaning “young lady”, and the term “damsel in distress” in turn is a translation of the French demoiselle en détresse. The behaviour of the damsel in distress; her screams, her fear, her appeals for relief in the face of immanent danger, are captured in the words of Julia Kristeva who says of life in the Middle Ages, “Roles were assigned to woman and man: suzerain and vassal, the lady offering up a ‘distress’ and the man offering a ‘service.’ “

Ancient mythologies around the world have captured the theme of damseling, and also the ‘parental brain’ state of the heroes who set out to rescue vulnerable maidens. While these tales are numerous, the practice of damseling did not become the centrepiece of any culture until a catering to women’s vulnerability was codified as a social expectation for men in the Middle Ages – a codification whereby men were asked to specialize as servicing agents in the role of alleviating women’s distresses. Giving birth to this idea, chivalry, courtly love, and a new sexual relations contract coalesced that placed women’s safety and comfort at the top of the hierarchy of social customs.

This gendered social development is perhaps nowhere better exemplified than in the “Enterprise of the Green Shield with the White Lady” a chivalric order founded by French knight and military leader Jean Le Maingre and twelve knights in 1399, committing themselves for the duration of five years to the protecting of all damsels in distress:

Inspired by the ideal of courtly love, the stated purpose of the order was to guard and defend the honor, estate, goods, reputation, fame and praise of all ladies, including widows.

According to his Livre des faits, in 1399 Jean Le Maingre, tired of receiving complaints from ladies, maidens, and widows oppressed by powerful men bent on depriving them of the lands and honours, and finding no knight of squire willing to defend their just cause, out of compassion and charity founded an order of twelve knights sworn to carry “a shield of gold enamelled with green and a white lady inside” (une targe d’or esmaillé de verd & tout une dame blanche dedans). The twelve knights, after swearing this oath, affirmed a long letter explaining their purpose and disseminated it widely in France and beyond her borders.

The letter explained that any lady young or old finding herself the victim of injustice could petition one or more or the knights of the ‘Enterprise of the Green Shield with the White Lady’ for redress and that knight would respond promptly and leave whatever other task he was performing to fight the lady’s oppressor personally.

During this period, men saving damsels was referred to euphemistically as love service, which saw male lovers referred to as homo ligius (the woman’s liegeman, or ‘my man’) who pledged honor, and servitium (service) to the lady via a posture of feudal homage. This growth of gynocentric specialization would later allow Modesta Pozzo to write the following:

“Don’t we see that men’s rightful task is to go out to work and wear themselves out trying to accumulate wealth, as though they were our factors or stewards, so that we can remain at home like the lady of the house directing their work and enjoying the profit of their labors? That, if you like, is the reason why men are naturally stronger and more robust than us—they need to be, so they can put up with the hard labor they must endure in our service.” (Pozzo – 1590 AD)

Such is the social ascendency of women and their ever-increasing cries of distress. Today we have a different dilemma in that damseling has evolved into a victim cult extending well beyond women. The damseling attitude now blankets much of the world with aggressive demands for redress, with social movements arising from the trope that are fomenting violence and decay within human societies. Exploiting primal reflexes, particularly those designed for parenting vulnerable juveniles, has become a runaway train with little to stop it. We can only hope that the current destruction will serve as the moment of reflection and restraint toward the damsel’s demands.

Part 2: Two Modes of Damseling

Damsel in distress

Paolo Uccello‘s depiction of Saint George and the dragon, c. 1470, a classic image of a damsel in distress.

(Wikipedia)

The damsel in distresspersecuted maiden, or princess in jeopardy is a classic theme in world literature, art, film and video games, most notably in the more action-packed. This trope usually involves beautiful, innocent, or helpless young female leads, placed in a dire predicament by a villain, monster or similar antagonist, and who requires a male hero to achieve her rescue. After rescuing her, the hero often obtains her hand in marriage. Though she is usually human, she can also be of any other species, including fictional or folkloric species; and even divine figures such as an angel, spirit, or deity.

The word “damsel” derives from the French demoiselle, meaning “young lady”, and the term “damsel in distress” in turn is a translation of the French demoiselle en détresse. It is an archaic term not used in modern English except for effect or in expressions such as this. It can be traced back to the knight-errant of Medieval songs and tales, who regarded protection of women as an essential part of his chivalric code which includes a notion of honour and nobility.[1] The English term “damsel in distress” itself first seems to have appeared in Richard Ames’ 1692 poem “Sylvia’s Complaint of Her Sexes Unhappiness.”[2]

History

Ancient history

Rembrandt’s Andromeda chained to the rock

The damsel in distress theme featured in the stories of the ancient Greeks. Greek mythology, while featuring a large retinue of competent goddesses, also contains helpless maidens threatened with sacrifice.

For example, Andromeda’s mother offended Poseidon, who sent a beast to ravage the land. To appease him Andromeda’s parents fastened her to a rock in the sea. The hero Perseus slew the beast, saving Andromeda.[3] Andromeda in her plight, chained naked to a rock, became a favorite theme of later painters. This theme of the princess and dragon is also pursued in the myth of St George.

Another early example of a damsel in distress is Sita in the ancient Indian epic Ramayana. In the epic, Sita is kidnapped by the villain Ravana and taken to Lanka. Her husband Rama goes on a quest to rescue her, with the help of the monkey god Hanuman, among others.

Post-classical history

European fairy tales frequently feature damsels in distress. Evil witches trapped Rapunzel in a tower, cursed Snow White to die in Snow White, and put the princess into a magical sleep in Sleeping Beauty. In all of these, a valorous prince comes to the maiden’s aid, saves her, and marries her (though Rapunzel is not directly saved by the prince, but instead saves him from blindness after her exile).

The damsel in distress was an archetypal character of medieval romances, where typically she was rescued from imprisonment in a tower of a castle by a knight-errant. Chaucer’s The Clerk’s Tale of the repeated trials and bizarre torments of patient Griselda was drawn from Petrarch. The Emprise de l’Escu vert à la Dame Blanche (founded 1399) was a chivalric order with the express purpose of protecting oppressed ladies.

The theme also entered the official hagiography of the Catholic Church – most famously in the story of Saint George who saved a princess from being devoured by a dragon. A late addition to the official account of this Saint’s life, not attested in the several first centuries when he was venerated, it is nowadays the main act for which Saint George is remembered.

Obscure outside Norway is Hallvard Vebjørnsson, the Patron Saint of Oslo, recognised as a martyr after being killed while valiantly trying to defend a woman – most likely a slave – from three men accusing her of theft.

Modern history

17th century

In the 17th century English ballad The Spanish Lady (one of several English and Irish songs with that name), a Spanish lady captured by an English captain falls in love with her captor and begs him not to set her free but to take her with him to England, and in this appeal describes herself as “A lady in distress”.[4]

18th century

Frank Bernard Dicksee. Chivalry

The damsel in distress makes her debut in the modern novel as the title character of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1748), where she is menaced by the wicked seducer Lovelace. The phrase “damsel in distress” is found in Richardson’s The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753):[5]

He is sometimes a mighty Prince … and I am a damsel in distress

Reprising her medieval role, the damsel in distress is a staple character of Gothic literature, where she is typically incarcerated in a castle or monastery and menaced by a sadistic nobleman, or members of the religious orders. Early examples in this genre include Matilda in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, Emily in Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, and Antonia in Matthew Lewis’ The Monk.

The Knight Errant (1870)) saves a damsel in distress and underlines the erotic subtext of the genre.

The perils faced by this Gothic heroine were taken to an extreme by the Marquis de Sade in Justine, who exposed the erotic subtext which lay beneath the damsel-in-distress scenario. John Everett Millais’ The Knight Errant of 1870 saves a damsel in distress and underlines the erotic subtext of the genre.

One exploration of the theme of the persecuted maiden is the fate of Gretchen in Goethe’s Faust. According to the philosopher Schopenhauer:

The great Goethe has given us a distinct and visible description of this denial of the will, brought about by great misfortune and by the despair of all deliverance, in his immortal masterpiece Faust, in the story of the sufferings of Gretchen. I know of no other description in poetry. It is a perfect specimen of the second path, which leads to the denial of the will not, like the first, through the mere knowledge of the suffering of the whole world which one acquires voluntarily, but through the excessive pain felt in one’s own person. It is true that many tragedies bring their violently willing heroes ultimately to this point of complete resignation, and then the will-to-live and its phenomenon usually end at the same time. But no description known to me brings to us the essential point of that conversion so distinctly and so free from everything extraneous as the one mentioned in Faust (The World as Will and Representation, Vol. I, §68)

19th century

The misadventures of the damsel in distress of the Gothic continued in a somewhat caricatured form in Victorian melodrama. According to Michael Booth in his classic study English Melodrama the Victorian stage melodrama featured a limited number of stock characters: the hero, the villain, the heroine, an old man, an old woman, a comic man and a comic woman engaged in a sensational plot featuring themes of love and murder. Often the good but not very clever hero is duped by a scheming villain, who has eyes on the damsel in distress until fate intervenes to ensure the triumph of good over evil.[6]

Such melodrama influenced the fledgling cinema industry and led to damsels in distress being the subject of many early silent films, especially those that were made as multi-episode serials. Early examples include The Adventures of Kathlyn in 1913 and The Hazards of Helen, which ran from 1914 to 1917. The silent movie heroines frequently faced new perils provided by the industrial revolution and catering to the new medium’s need for visual spectacle. Here we find the heroine tied to a railway track, burning buildings, and explosions. Sawmills were another stereotypical danger of the industrial age, as recorded in a popular song from a later era:

… A bad gunslinger called Salty Sam was chasin’ poor Sweet Sue

He trapped her in the old sawmill and said with an evil laugh,
If you don’t give me the deed to your ranch
I’ll saw you all in half!
And then he grabbed her (and then)
He tied her up (and then)

He turned on the bandsaw (and then, and then…!) …— Along Came Jones by The Coasters

20th century

During the First World War, the imagery of a Damsel in Distress was extensively used in Allied propaganda (see illustrations). Particularly, the Imperial German conquest and occupation of Belgium was commonly referred to as The Rape of Belgium – effectively transforming Allied soldiers into knights bent on saving that rape victim. This was expressed explicitly in the lyrics of Keep the Home Fires Burning mentioning the “boys” as having gone to help a “Nation in Distress”.

A form of entertainment in which the damsel-in-distress emerged as a stereotype at this time was stage magic. Restraining attractive female assistants and imperiling them with blades and spikes became a staple of 20th century magicians’ acts. Noted illusion designer and historian Jim Steinmeyer identifies the beginning of this phenomenon as coinciding with the introduction of the “sawing a woman in half” illusion. In 1921 magician P. T. Selbit became the first to present such an act to the public. Steinmeyer observes that: “Before Selbit’s illusion, it was not a cliche that pretty ladies were teased and tortured by magicians. Since the days of Robert-Houdin, both men and women were used as the subjects for magic illusions”. However, changes in fashion and great social upheavals during the first decades of the 20th century made Selbit’s choice of “victim” both practical and popular. The trauma of war had helped to desensitise the public to violence and the emancipation of women had changed attitudes to them. Audiences were tiring of older, more genteel forms of magic. It took something shocking, such as the horrific productions of the Grand Guignol theatre, to cause a sensation in this age. Steinmeyer concludes that: “beyond practical concerns, the image of the woman in peril became a specific fashion in entertainment”.[7]

The damsel-in-distress continued as a mainstay of the comics, film, and television industries throughout the 20th century. Imperiled heroines in need of rescue were a frequent occurrence in black-and-white film serials made by studios such as Columbia Pictures, Mascot Pictures, Republic Pictures, and Universal Studios in the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s. These serials sometimes drew inspiration for their characters and plots from adventure novels and comic books. Notable examples include the character Nyoka the Jungle Girl, whom Edgar Rice Burroughs created for comic books and who was later adapted into a serial heroine in the Republic productions Jungle Girl (1941) and its sequel Perils of Nyoka (1942). Additional classic damsels in that mold were Jane Porter, in both the novel and movie versions of Tarzan, and Ann Darrow, as played by Fay Wray in the movie King Kong (1933), in one of the most iconic instances. The notorious hoax documentary Ingagi (1930) also featured this idea, and Wray’s role was repeated by Jessica Lange and Naomi Watts in remakes. As journalist Andrew Erish has noted: “Gorillas plus sexy women in peril equals enormous profits”.[8] Small screen iconic portrayals, this time in children’s cartoons, are Underdog’s girlfriend, Sweet Polly Purebred and Nell Fenwick, who is often rescued by inept Mountie Dudley Do-Right.

Frequently cited examples of a damsel in distress in comics include Lois Lane, who was eternally getting into trouble and needing to be rescued by Superman, and Olive Oyl, who was in a near-constant state of kidnap, requiring her to be saved by Popeye.

In video games

In computer and video games, female characters are often cast in the role of the damsel in distress, with their rescue being the objective of the game.[18][19] Princess Zelda in the early The Legend of Zelda series and who has been described by Gladys L. Knight in her book Female Action Heroes as “perhaps one the most well-known ‘damsel in distress’ princesses in video game history”,[20] the Sultan’s daughter in Prince of Persia, and Princess Peach through much of the Mario series are paradigmatic examples. According to Salzburge Academy on Media and Global Change, in 1981 Nintendo offered game designer Shigeru Miyamoto to create a new video game for the American market. In the game the hero was Mario, and the objective of the game was to rescue a young princess named Peach. Peach was depicted as having a pink dress and blond hair. The princess was kidnapped and trapped in a castle by the villain Bowser, who is depicted as a turtle. Princess Peach appears in 15 of the main Super Mario games and is kidnapped in 13 of them. The only main games in which Peach was not kidnapped were in the North America release of Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario 3D World, where she is instead one of the main heroes. Zelda became playable in some later games of the Legend of Zelda series or had the pattern altered.

In the Dragon’s Lair game series, Princess Daphne is the beautiful daughter of King Aethelred and an unnamed queen. She serves as the series’ damsel in distress.[21][22] Jon M. Gibson of GameSpy called Daphne “the epitome” as an example of the trope.[23]

References

  1. ^ Johan Huizinga remarks in his book The Waning of the Middle Ages, “the source of the chivalrous idea, is pride aspiring to beauty, and formalised pride gives rise to a conception of honour, which is the pole of noble life”. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (1919) 1924:58.
  2. ^ Ames, Richard (1692). Sylvia’s Complaint of Her Sexes Unhappiness : a Poem, Being the Second Part of Sylvia’s Revenge, Or, a Satyr Against Man. London: Richard Baldwin. p. 12.
  3. ^ Chisholm 1911, p. 975.
  4. ^ “Spanish Lady”.
  5. ^ “The Editor of Pamela and Clarissa” [Samuel Richardson] (1754). The History of Sir Charles Grandisonii. London: S. Richardson. p. 92. hdl:2027/inu.30000115373627.
  6. ^ Booth, Michael (1965). English Melodrama. Herbert Jenkins.
  7. ^ Steinmeyer, Jim (2003). Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible. William Heinemann/Random House. pp. 277–295. ISBN 0-434-01325-0.
  8. ^ Erish, Andrew (8 January 2006). “Illegitimate dad of ‘Kong’; One of the Depression’s highest-grossing films was an outrageous fabrication, a scandalous and suggestive gorilla epic that set box office records across the country”Los Angeles Times.
  9. ^ “Damsel in Distress (Part 2) Tropes vs Women”. 28 May 2013.
  10. ^ See, e.g., Alison Lurie, “Fairy Tale Liberation”, The New York Review of Books, v. 15, n. 11 (Dec. 17, 1970) (germinal work in the field); Donald Haase, “Feminist Fairy-Tale Scholarship: A Critical Survey and Bibliography”, Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies v.14, n.1 (2000).
  11. ^ See Jane Yolen, “This Book Is For You”, Marvels & Tales, v. 14, n. 1 (2000) (essay); Yolen, Not One Damsel in Distress: World folktales for Strong Girls (anthology); Jack Zipes, Don’t Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Fairy Tales in North America and England, Routledge: New York, 1986 (anthology).
  12. ^ Singer, Ben (February 1999). Richard Abel (ed.). Female Power in the Serial-Queen Melodrama: The Etiology of An Anomaly in Silent Film. Continuum International Publishing Group – Athlone. pp. 168–177. ISBN 0-485-30076-1.
  13. ^ Visitor Reviews: From Venus With Love. The Avengers Forever. Retrieved 2007-05-11.
  14. ^ Jowett, Lorna (2005). Sex and The Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan. Wesleyan University Press.
  15. ^ Graham, Paula (2002). “Buffy Wars: The Next Generation”Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge. Bowling Green State University (4, Spring).
  16. ^ Gough, Kerry (August 2004). “Active Heroines Study Day – John Moores University, Liverpool (in partnership with The Association for Research in Popular Fiction)”Scope: An Online Journal of Film and Television Studies. Institute of Film & Television Studies, University of Nottingham.
  17. ^ Robert J. HarrisThe Thirty-One KingsPolygon Books, London 2017, p. 147.
  18. ^ Kaitlin Tremblay (1 June 2012). “Intro to Gender Criticism for Gamers: From Princess Peach, to Claire Redfield, to FemSheps”Gamasutra. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  19. ^ Stephen Totilo (2013-06-20). “Shigeru Miyamoto and the Damsel In Distress”Kotaku. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  20. ^ Knight, Gladys L. (2010). Female Action Heroes: A Guide to Women in Comics, Video Games, Film, and Television. ABC-CLIO. p. 62. ISBN 978-0-313-37612-2.
  21. ^ “Amtix Magazine Issue 17”. Retrieved 2014-06-13.
  22. ^ “Computer Gamer – Issue 18 (1986-09) (Argus Press) (UK)”. Retrieved 2014-06-13.
  23. ^ “GameSpy: Dragon’s Lair 3D: Return to the Lair – Page 1”. Xbox.gamespy.com. Retrieved 2014-06-13.


The Near-Irresistible Lure of Damseling

The following is a discussion by Janice Fiamengo of the medieval practice of damseling to garner chivalric responses from males, a practice that is alive and well in the political sphere today.

The Near-Irresistible Lure of Damseling

By Janice Fiamengo

Well over a century ago, our ancestors debated women’s demand for voting and other privileges. Traditionalists argued that women faced a choice: they could either have special treatment on the basis of their alleged vulnerability as a group, or they could have political equality, but they couldn’t have both. Lo and behold, women got both, with peculiar results for our political culture.

In our time, the performance of powerlessness has become a dominant strategy of power, nowhere more evident than in politics. “I’ve been traumatized” is now a more galvanizing cry than “I can handle that”—and trembling weakness often eclipses demonstration of strength and competence.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s accusers have reproduced the standard victim script with word perfect fidelity, claiming that relatively benign, or certainly minor, actions such as kissing on the cheek, suggestive remarks, and too-long hugging left them “confused and shocked and embarrassed” or, as one stated, feeling reduced to being “just a skirt.” One accuser has related how Cuomo put his hand on her back and asked to kiss her at a wedding two years ago. The now formulaic expressions of woundedness reminded me of Atlantic magazine writer Tina Dupuy, who alleged in a 2017 article that Senator Al Franken had once, years before, squeezed her waist during a photo op at a Media Matters party, and that the squeeze had left her feeling “no longer a person.”

Notwithstanding a few notable exceptions like black actor Jussie Smollett, who teared up on cue for Good Morning America while discussing his alleged assault by noose-wielding MAGA men, the performance of quivering hurt is far more likely to be used with success by women, and the past few years have brought a plethora of enactments of feminine fragility: demands for apologies, declarations of fear and shame, and the demand that tales of trauma be believed, all appealing to the in-group empathy of women and the chivalric impulses of men.

What other than in-group empathy and chivalry can explain a phenomenon like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s stubborn insistence on the implausible trauma she suffered during the January 6th storming of the U.S. Capitol building?

AOC has outlined in detail, in a video of one and a half hour’s painfully self-absorbed length, how she was convinced that “Everything—was—over” as she hid in her office waiting for Trump supporters to come for her. It didn’t matter that she was not near the epicentre of unrest, and that the voice she heard that so terrified her was that of a Capitol police officer rather than a rioter.

One might expect her to hesitate to share her fears once it had been revealed that she was never really under any threat at all. But instead, AOC doubled down, linking her Capitol ordeal to her experience years before as an alleged victim of sexual assault.

According to her logic, what actually happened to her in the Capitol complex doesn’t really matter; only what she felt. And anyone who doubts what she felt—or doubts her right to use that feeling for political leverage–is someone with contempt for the recurring trauma of survivors like her.

What is perhaps most striking about AOC’s hour and a half long video is her very deliberate self-infantilization as she plays up the non-rational elements of her response.

Her story is told to the camera as if for the first time—though of course it was filmed weeks after the event and presumably was much-rehearsed. There are long pauses while she seems to search for a word or is overcome by emotion while remembering.

The appearance of spontaneity, of in-the-moment visceral intensity, is almost perfectly mastered, and in that sense it is an Oscar worthy enactment.

AOC’s voice frequently trembles with seemingly irrepressible emotion as tears well up in her eyes. Sometimes within a very short time, she moves from near-tears to smiles and laughter. At moments she appears lost in thought, unconscious of the camera, gazing out of the frame as if consumed by feeling; at other moments her glance is directly to the camera lens, inviting soul-to-soul intimacy.

The performance is about as far as could be imagined from the rationality and self-control—and above all the calm strength, the inner power–that one would traditionally have expected from a politician, someone responsible for conducting the nation’s business. It is a performance of youth, certainly, and even more so of deep feminine vulnerability and emotional volatility—far more appropriate to a 16-year-old high school girl—and even then an immature and narcissistic one–than a 31-year-old congressional representative who proposes and votes on federal legislation.

Such a self-performance, which is certainly not confined to AOC, raises troubling questions about the impact on public life of women, and men to a lesser extent, who define themselves by their experience of trauma and claim authenticity on the basis of powerful feelings beyond their control.

If AOC cannot be counted upon to respond rationally in a moment of minimal or merely imagined danger, how can she be counted upon to do the people’s business at all? Being a member of the House of Representatives requires tough-mindedness and resilience. Accusations and personal attacks—though not physical attacks—are a normal part of the job. Hysteria and over-reaction –as in accusing Ted Cruz publicly of trying to kill her—interfere with the focus and maturity necessary for the work of government.

AOC’s justification of her fear is damning: “When we encounter such a terrifying moment,” she explains, “we respond with the entirety of our life experience.” In other words, AOC admits that the moment was terrifying because she couldn’t separate her previous experience of alleged assault from her current perception.

Note how glibly she speaks of herself not as a rational individual in control of her own responses but as a member of a pre-determined collective, in this case the identity group ‘female survivor.’ She admits that, as a female survivor she cannot help how she responds to an unsettling situation. The embrace of the hysterical feminine—and not as a moment of weakness overcome but as a deliberate strategy of power—should be profoundly alarming to all who care about the future of western democracies.

It is always easy enough for rationality to be lost inadvertently in the midst of heated political argument—but it’s a calamity when it is deliberately rejected. And that’s where we’re at now, at a time when women’s public tears and professions of fragility have been granted unprecedented political power.

There have always been women who understood the equivocal power of feminine weakness and warned against it. Canadian journalist Sara Jeannette Duncan, a skeptical supporter of the women’s movement, wrote in the Toronto Globe newspaper in 1885 about the double-edged sword of a woman’s public tears: they got results, certainly, but they detracted from the intellectual self-discipline necessary for productive political engagement.

“Nothing is more unconsciously dramatic than a woman’s outcry against a suffering which is often hers through no fault of her own,” Duncan wrote, “But if she asks the ballot by virtue of her ability to sorrow eloquently […] it seems to me that she will be sorely puzzled to know what to do with it when it is hers” (Toronto Globe, 15 July 1885, p. 3). If women wished to be treated as political equals, Duncan advised, they would have to overcome their reliance on postures of eloquent sorrow.

Many of Duncan’s feminist contemporaries, however, embraced claims of female emotional superiority, alleging that maleness was responsible for war, cruelty, and inequality.

Widely admired Canadian feminist Nellie McClung addressed the question of what she called “The New Chivalry” in her 1915 book In Times Like These. “People tell us now that chivalry is dead, and women have killed it,” she quipped at the start. She was referring to the idea, quite common at the time she wrote, that women’s entry into public life would destroy their special status as a protected class.

When the British vessel Titanic sank in April 1912 with enormous loss of life, 74% of the women on board were rescued as compared to only 20% of the men. Men deliberately stood back, giving up places on life boats and accepting their own deaths so that women could be saved. They did so in part because they knew that to survive a disaster like the Titanic sinking while leaving women to drown was to be permanently disgraced. Such was the power of chivalry, as a concept and a living reality, in British and North American society.

McClung makes no reference to the Titanic sinking in her discussion of chivalry—though the disaster was very much a recent memory.

She dismissed chivalry as a romantic notion far more honored as an idea than as an actual practice. Yes, beautiful women have always had an easy time of it, she admitted, but the notion that women are protected as a whole is little more than a pretty theory. She asserted this at the very time that young men were being maimed and killed by the hundreds of thousands in the trenches of Europe while some of their female counterparts discussed voting rights. McClung actually had the gall to argue that when women had the right to vote, war itself would become a thing of the past because war was in her words, “a crime committed by men” that would end “when women are allowed to say what they think of war.” Up until now, she alleged with a sarcastic dig at chivalry, “women have had nothing to say about war, except to pay the price of [it]” (15).

According to McClung, what women wanted was justice, not chivalry: not men’s gallantry, not men’s sympathy, but the right to represent their interests and pursue professional careers in the same way men did. This would be, she said, a “fair deal” (42). Significantly, though, she did not reject chivalry altogether, saying that “Chivalry is a poor substitute for justice, if one cannot have both.” In the fair society of McClung’s vision, women should have equal rights but should also have special rights as women when appropriate.

And it turns out that special rights are often deemed appropriate—perhaps more now than ever before. The temptation to act the damsel in distress appears near-irresistible.

When women occupy positions of political power, the media is ablaze with stories about the feminine qualities they allegedly bring to their positions—according to a recent article in the left-wing academic journal The Conversation, their empathy, ability to work collaboratively, communication skills, openness, and inclusivity.

But one quality conspicuously lacking is the ability to resist playing the damsel.

In my home province of British Columbia, the chief health officer is a woman named Bonnie Henry, an unelected official who has exercised extraordinary, often devastating power during the COVID pandemic, deciding whether schools could open, which businesses were essential, how many people could gather, and whether protests were legitimate, all with a soft quavering voice and endless promises of just a few more weeks as the axe fell regularly on citizens’ freedoms and livelihoods. She has generally been very popular, her saintly image memorialized in a public mural and a musical ode.

But at the first sign of criticism, the vulnerable damsel has emerged onto the public scene.

In the middle of the pandemic when most people, on her advice, were isolating in their bubbles, Henry took part in a panel discussion about women in leadership , and made much of her own suffering, singling out the “death threats,” “nasty notes,” “phone calls,” and “harassment” she had allegedly received, and suggesting that “people find that it’s OK to do that for a woman who’s up front more so than some of our male leaders” though she followed that with “But I could be wrong.” Fortunately for Henry, it doesn’t matter whether female leaders are attacked more often or more viciously than male leaders (actually they’re not)—a chorus of chivalric experts are always happy to chime in about women’s special suffering, and Bonnie Henry, suffering to the tune of $360,000 a year while peons lost their businesses, stoked public sympathy even while wasting precious pandemic time appearing on a panel to damsel about how hard it is to be her.

It’s a now standard part of gender politics—endless claims and controversies about sexism, endless rounds of demands for apology, apologies offered, apologies refused, apologies accepted but criticized as inadequate, and so on. Just a few weeks ago, Canadian newspapers ignited with inflammatory headlines such as “Ford owes apology to every woman in Ontario after hurling ‘sexist’ comment, Horwath says.” Readers could be forgiven for assuming that the Conservative leader of Ontario, Doug Ford, must have said—or rather ‘hurled’–something outrageous if it required not only an apology to Horwath, the feminist leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, but to every one of the millions of women in the province. It turned out that during a back and forth in the provincial parliament, Ford had said, “It’s like listening to nails on a chalkboard listening to you.”

An extraordinary number of journalistic words were spent hyperventilating about the alleged misogyny of the outburst, and Horwath couldn’t resist the halo it offered her as a deeply wounded but valiant champion of womankind; later that day, she tweeted out a message to all women advising them: “Don’t let anyone try to tell you you don’t belong at Queen’s Park,” though there had been no suggestion that she didn’t belong (at the provincial legislature). “I’m going to continue making positive proposals to give people the help and hope they need to get through this pandemic.” If she were really so deeply concerned about constituents affected by the pandemic, she might have thought it frivolous to waste an entire day fussing about her alleged hurt feelings.

But that is the nature of the female politician these days, consumed with thoughts of self, narcissistic displays, allegations of harm, and demands that others recognize the uniqueness of female suffering.

The notable confusion in our societies is highlighted every time an allegation of gendered trauma or necessity for gendered apology is raised. Do women require kid gloves treatment in the public sphere, or not? Are their feelings more delicate than men’s when it comes to personal remarks and perception of threat, or not? If the answer to these questions is no, then why do female politicians not say so loud and clear? If the answer is yes—women do require kid gloves treatment—then why do we continue to pretend that women today seek equality of opportunity?

The fact is that women’s ability to demand equality when it suits them and special treatment when that suits them is a ridiculous and corrosive distraction. Women’s claims of victimhood take a great deal of time and energy away from many pressing issues, and create an uneven political playing field in which every man knows he can be wrong-footed, and every woman knows she can power trip if she wants to. The damsel option disinclines some women from whole-heartedly pursuing competence because they know they can deflect criticism or gain advancement by sorrowing eloquently, creating bad faith in many women, suspicion and resentment in many men.

Until it becomes an actual political disability to claim weakness and demand apologies—our public culture will continue to be held hostage by the damsels among us.

Links

Intimate Relationships Between Women and Men: Psychosocial And Post-Jungian Perspectives

By Professor Andrew Samuels: transcript of talk delivered in Japan in 2019

INTRODUCTION

In most countries, relationships between women and men continue to be studied and discussed in academic and clinical circles. One reason for it is because, whilst such relationships reflect social and cultural changes, they also drive them.

This is a talk about gender, psychology, politics and the relations between women and men. I have been writing about these matters for forty five years and I am still not sure what I think about them, or sure what is true and accurate.

(1) I dedicate my talk to two people. First, to my friend Professor Takao Oda, who brought me to lecture and teach in Japan many times. I still grieve his loss at a very young age. He taught me much about Shinto and about sand play.

The second person is one of my heroes, the British World and Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams. She has been my muse in writing this talk. (1) Here she is:

Now, I present the structure of my talk:

  • INTRODUCTION
  • MEN AND POLITICS
  • IN PRAISE OF GENDER CONFUSION
  • JUNGIAN ANALYSIS AND GENDER: BEYOND THE FEMININE PRINCIPLE
  • ANIMUS AND ANIMA – A PROPOSAL
  • ON INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS – THE PHENOMENON OF PROMISCUITY

All I know is that the debates around gender, whether within Jungian analysis, or outside Jungian analysis, or between Jungian analysis and other disciplines are numinous and fascinating. We are all caught up in them, with our particular culture, history and geographical location playing important parts.

During the talk, I will ask you in the audience to engage in four gentle experiential exercises. Please do not worry about them, but I wanted to give advance notice.

I will try to be careful not to give the impression that I am deeply familiar with contemporary Japanese culture. Yet I believe that my ideas may well strike a chord with a Japanese audience.

Why might my ideas from London strike a chord with you, here in Japan? I was very struck by the scandal in which the entrance examination results for medical school were falsified so that more men got in than was in fact the case. The picture is of the authorities apologising:

The BBC recently broadcast a report on the resistance by Japanese women to the compulsory wearing of high-heeled shoes in the office. The important thing was not the rule (which is often in use and we have things like that in Britain – but the new phenomenon of Japanese women’s resistance to it. In the picture, the woman in the meeting room is boldly and defiantly wearing trainers. Yet, we read in the newspapers how the Minister of Health and Labour defended the rule as ‘necessary’.

Next, I was also struck by the headline in this economic report: that in terms of economic gender inequality Japan is the worst in the G7. I didn’t know that.

Japan Ranks Worst Among G7 on Gender Gap Index

I also learned that married women may not continue to use their maiden names.

Look, we have similar tensions in the West and we are in paroxysms over #MeToo and sexual harassment. But that’s not the point. The point is that I’ve become aware that Japan is in the middle of an intense national debate about gender. That was why, with the encouragement of Professor Konoyu Nakamura, I chose the topic for today’s talk.

(2) You may be asking why I focus on heterosexuality, and not include homosexuality, and do not enter into discussions about transgender? It is not that I am uninterested in these latter themes; indeed, I have written much about them, and am known publicly as an advocate for the rights of gay men and lesbians and, more recently, of transgendered people. But I think it is time for me, and maybe for the field, to return to the majority concern once again, and that is heterosexuality, whether we like it or not. In so doing, one need not be hetero-normative, as I will try to show. (2)

‘Gender’ has come to mean the arrangements by which the supposedly biological raw material of sex and procreation is shaped by human and social intervention. Gender and the passionate politics it spawns have given rise to traumatic divisiveness in our world – West, East, South and North. But, looked at with the eye of a psychoanalyst, the very idea of gender also has a hidden bridge-building function: it sits on a threshold half-way between the inner and outer worlds, and thus is already half-way out into the world of politics.

On the one hand, gender is a private, secret, sacred, mysterious story that we tell ourselves and are told by others about who we are. But it is also a set of experiences deeply implicated in and irradiated by the political and socioeconomic realities of the outer world. The notion of gender, therefore, not only marries the inner and outer worlds, but actually calls into dispute the validity of the division.

It is no wonder, then, that gender issues get so politicized as well as continuing to turn us on. Nor is it any surprise that contemporary cultural and political discussions focus so often on gender issues – like the proportions of men and women in the various arms of government, paternity (as opposed to maternity) leave, and the perennial and unsolved everywhere issue of equality of pay. Here is an iconic image of a women’s protest against the lodging of nuclear weapons in Britain on a US air force base. Reflect on the shape and tone of the bodies in such conflict….

MEN AND POLITICS

Leaving aside the actions of the women at the base, let’s focus on men for a moment. Why? Far too much psychological writing on gender focuses on women! Not many psychoanalysts write about men. Ironically, men have become the object of much political and psychological scrutiny in the West these days and are often seen as ‘the problem’. I say ‘ironically’ because, for millennia, men were the ones to scrutinize other groups and make them problematic: women, children, Blacks, the fauna and flora of the natural world. Men were a sort of papal balcony from which to survey the universe. But, in our age, a huge shift in cultural consciousness has taken place and new questions about men have arisen: men as (errant) fathers, men as (violent) criminals, men as (apathetic) citizens.

(3) The three underlying questions seem to be: Can men change? Are men powerful? Do men hate women? I will briefly discuss these questions and then, as an experiential exercise, ask you to discuss amongst yourselves and then vote what you think about the answers to the questions. (3)

Can men change? Men can change, of course, and yet the statistics about who typically takes care of children or does the washing-up show that they have not altered their behaviour very much. Why not? In the past few years, far too much time has been spent on irresolvable philosophical, metaphysical and quasi-scientific discussions about the relative importance of nature and nurture in the formation of gender identity and performance. Yet it may still be politically useful to consider the limitations on men’s capacity to change – not because of biological hard-wiring but because of psychological factors, in psychotherapy language ‘internalization’: A kind of psychological rather than biological ‘inheritance’ referring to the way men take in (internalize) images of manliness they see projected by the outside world and make them part of their inner world.

Exercise 1: Please discuss this question ‘Can men change? with your neighbours for a few minutes. Then we will vote on the question ‘Can men change?’ Those who say yes? Those who say no? Those who abstain?

Are men powerful? They certainly have economic power. But Black men, homeless men, men in prisons, young men forced or tricked into armies, disabled men, gay men – these are often vulnerable figures. We have serious trouble contemplating male economic power and male economic vulnerability simultaneously. We know, too, that men are scared of women. Never mind their fear of ‘the feminine’, what scares men is women. How can a man be said to be powerful if he is scared of women? And men are also frightened of other men. When contemplating the question of male power, what each of us has internalized is crucial in determining our answer – which means that personal experience and circumstances are decisive.

At the same time, the undoubted economic power that males possess could be made to serve progressive ends. If men and their formal institutions put just a tiny proportion of their economic power to benevolent use, it would make an enormous difference. Or if men got fully behind attempts to engage with the climate crisis that threatens us with apocalyptic destruction. So whatever changes may be taking place in the world of men could have immense political and social effects.

Exercise 2: Please discuss this question ‘Are men powerful?’ with your neighbours for a few minutes. Then we will vote on the question ‘Are men powerful?’ Those who say yes? Those who say no? Those who abstain?

Do men hate women? Here, the word ‘ambivalence’ comes to mind and, as we shall return to the concept later, its history will be useful. In 1910, when Jung’s superior, Eugene Bleuler, coined the word ambivalence, he meant it as a very serious symptom of schizophrenia. By the 1930s and 1940s, it had become the sign of psychological maturity according to psychoanalysis. Ambivalence is the capacity to have simultaneously hating and loving feelings towards the same person. So it is not only a problem, but an extremely hard-to-achieve aspect of psychological and social maturity.

Exercise 3: Please discuss this question ‘Do men hate women?’ with your neighbours for a few minutes. Then we will vote on the question ‘Do men hate women?’ Those who say yes? Those who say no? Those who abstain?

IN PRAISE OF GENDER CONFUSION

Most people are wary now of any individuals who seem too settled and sure in their gender identity and gender role. Think of the tycoon – so capable and dynamic, such a marvellous self-starter. Do we not know that, secretly, he is a sobbing little boy, dependent on others, perhaps mostly females, for all his feelings of safety and security? Or the Don Juan, talking incessantly of the women he has seduced, who turns out to have fantasies of being female himself and yearns to be seduced by another man? Or the woman who seems so fulfilled as a mother, yet privately desires to express herself in ways other than maternity, to come into another kind of power, to protest her cultural ‘castration’?

We have come to accept that behind excessive gender certainty lurk gender confusions like these. At the same time, even many people who are suspicious of too much gender certainty feel that it is basically a good thing to be pretty certain about one’s gender, to know for sure that, in spite of all the problems one has with being a man or a woman, one is indeed a man or a woman.

Yet the contemporary emergence and (sometimes) the acceptance of transgender means that another ideal altogether is needed to make sense of what we are experiencing in the muddled and mysterious world of early twenty-first-century gender relations and gender politics. Many people who come for therapy are manifestly confused about their gender identity. They may know how a man or woman is supposed to behave; but they are not sure that, given what they know about their internal lives, a person who is really a man or a woman could possibly feel or fantasize what they are feeling and fantasizing.

In Britain, one of our most famous sports journalists has transitioned from male to female. Quite a fantastic thing to do in his profession. And he writes: ‘Its OK to find this confusing’.

For these profound feelings of gender confusion to exist, there has to be an equally profound feeling of gender certainty in operation at some level – certainty based on the images presented by society. You cannot know the details of your confusion without having an inkling of the certitude against which you are measuring it. The client sobbing his little boy heart out knows very well that ‘real’ ‘manly’ tycoons exist out there and evaluates himself negatively as a result. Indeed, we could even say: no gender certainty, no gender confusion.

What this means is that, to a very great degree, people construct their gender confusion in relation to their gender certainty. If gender certainty is part of ordinary socialization, then gender confusion is equally constructed and not a deep personal wound or failure.

We need, therefore, to extend radically the by-now conventional insight that gender confusion lies behind gender certainty to see that gender certainty lies behind gender confusion. To the extent that gender confusion is usually taken as a mental health problem or neurosis, we are making a colossal mistake and even playing a destructive con trick on those supposedly suffering from it. The problem, in fact, is gender certainty.

We can look at how this operates for men specifically in Western societies. The clichéd idea that many men living in a feminism-affected culture feel confused about who they are as men takes on a rather different cast if we disown the idea of the desirability of gender certainty. From this angle, modern men are not so confused – or at least feeling confused is not their main problem.

Their problem is being afflicted with a gender certainty that is of no emotional use to them in their lives, and may be actually harmful to their potential. (When men’s movement leaders offer a certainty that seems to have been missing from the lives of men, they are unwittingly doing nothing more than bringing the unconscious gender certainty that was always there to the surface and reinforcing it. As that certainty came from the culture in the first place, there is nothing radical or scene-shifting about it at all.)

That’s enough on men. Now, the really interesting question is what to do with the feelings of gender confusion from which everyone suffers these days. It all becomes easier to live with if we replace the word ‘confusion’ with something that sounds more positive, like ‘non-binary’, ‘fluidity’ or ‘flexibility’ or even ‘androgyny’. But the word ‘confusion’ has merits because it comes closer to capturing what contemporary people feel about their gender identity.

In fact, gender confusion can contribute something valuable to political and social reform and change. If gender is a story we tell about ourselves that is half private and half public, it is also something upon which most polities have erected a welter of oppressive practices and regulations, mostly favouring men. Unfortunately, many Western governments may be turning back to a retrogressive form of gender politics fuelled by the certitudinous ‘family values’ of the past.

We psychotherapists and analysts need to access what is involved in gender confusion and gender certainty in a new language of fleshly images that speak more directly to people’s experience. Children seem to grasp this instinctively. When my son was 8 and my daughter 7, they taught me their theory of gender confusion, which has much more to do with self-image at depth than the more conventional, journalistic presentation of men as mixed up because of what women have managed to achieve.

They identified four equal categories: boy-boy, boy-girl, girl-girl and girl-boy. Anatomy is important but not decisive in determining who belongs to which category. So my daughter could refer to herself as a girl-girl or a girl-boy while my son oscillated between being a boy-girl and a girl-boy. Context was important – it depended on whom they were with. This system gets beyond a simplistic heterosexual-homosexual or feminine-masculine divide. In the adult world, as many (or more) boy-girls are heterosexual as are homosexual. The certitudes upon which homophobia rests are subverted by this way of speaking.

In fact, the celebration of confusion embodied by such children’s theories may be a more effective, interesting and radical way to enter gender politics than either the suspiciousness and judgementalism of the therapist or the nostalgia-fuelled return to certainty we see in some aspects of the men’s movement or the advocacy of an ersatz merger of men’s sociopolitical interests with those of women. Gender confusion unsettles all the main alternatives on offer.

I conclude this section on gender confusion by saying that nothing is more suspect than the complaint, fuelled by ‘victim envy’, that society now favours women over men. Nevertheless, as suggested earlier, it would be wrong to end by reasserting that males have all the power. Perhaps there isn’t a monolith called ‘men’ after all.

JUNGIAN ANALYSIS AND GENDER: BEYOND THE FEMININE PRINCIPLE

Now is the time to look at Jungian contributions to discussions about the matters I have been raising.Now the questions become:

Is there such a thing as innately ‘masculine’ or innately ‘feminine’ psychology?

Is there such a thing as a ‘feminine psychology’?

I’ll begin with a general discussion, then consider whether there is a feminine psychology that applies to women. In a moment, I’ll look at the ‘feminine’ in relation to men, and, after that, at femininity and masculinity as metaphors.

Males and females do have experiences that vary markedly. But it is a huge step from that to a claim that they actually function sufficiently discrepantly psychologically for us to speak of two distinct psychologies. The evidence concerning this is muddled and hard to assess.

For instance, the discovery that boys build towers and girls build enclosures when they are given bricks can be taken to show a similarity of functioning rather than difference (which is what is usually claimed). Both sexes are interested in their bodies and, possibly, in the differences between male and female bodies. Both sexes express that interest in the same way – symbolically, in play with bricks. Or, put in another form, both sexes approach the difference between the sexes in the same way.

The differences that we see in gender role and gender identity can then be looked at as having arisen in the same manner. The psychological processes by which a male becomes an aggressive businessman and a female a nurturing and submissive housewife are the same kinds of processes – and one should not be deceived by the dissimilarity in the end product.

What I have been describing is not a woman’s relation to an innate femininity or to an innate masculinity. Rather I am talking of her relation to the phenomenon of difference. Then we can consider the social or cultural structures erected on the basis of that difference. Each woman lives her life in interplay with such difference.

This leads at once to questions of gender role (for example, how a woman can best express her aggression in her culture) but these questions need not be couched in terms of innate femininity or innate masculinity, nor in terms of a feminine-masculine spectrum. Rather, they might be expressed in terms of difference.

In the example, the difference between aggression and submission needs to be seen as different from the difference between men and women! Or, put another way, whatever differences there might be between women and men are not illuminated or signified by the difference between submission and aggression.

Now, as a Jungian, I am of course aware that men are said to have access to the ‘feminine’, or to the ‘feminine principle’ and I used to think that such an unremittingly interior view was the jewel in the Jungian crown. Well, these days I am not so sure.

If we’re attempting to describe psychological performance, we have to be sure why terms with gendered associations and appellations are being used at all. Otherwise we end up with statements such as that ‘masculine’ aggression is available to women via their relation to the animus, or ‘feminine’ reflection in the man via his anima. But aggression is part of woman and reflection is part of man.

What is more, there are so many kinds of aggression open to women that even current attempts to speak of a woman’s aggression as ‘feminine’ rather than ‘masculine’ still bind her as tightly as ever. Let us begin to speak merely of aggression. Gender engenders confusion – and this is made worse when gender terms are used exclusively in an inner way. When we speak of ‘inner’ femininity in a man, we bring in all the unnecessary problems of reification and substantive abstraction that I have been describing. We still cannot assume that psychological functioning is different in men and women, though we know that the creatures ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are different.

The question of ‘difference’ brings us to a point where we can play back these ideas into analytical psychology. From Jung’s overall theory of opposites, which hamstrings us by its insistence on contrasexuality (‘masculine’ assertion via the animus, etc.), we can extract the theme of difference. The notion of difference, I suggest, can help us in the discussion about gender. Not innate ‘opposites’, which lead us to create an unjustified psychological division expressed in lists of antithetical qualities, each list yearning for the other list so as to become ‘whole’. A marriage made on paper.

So what I am suggesting is that in both the collective, external debate about gender characteristics and the personal, internal debate about gender identity, the question of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ is best left in suspension.

It is probably fair to say that post-Jungian analytical psychology has become preoccupied with the ‘feminine principle’. Here, I am not referring to the writings on women and ‘feminine psychology’ by Jung and his early circle of followers. The problems with that body of work are well known and often repeated. But in the 1970s and 1980s, mainly in the United States, women writers in analytical psychology have set out to revise, or revolutionize, the early work. Such writers are struggling to be ‘post-Jungian’ in their attempt to critique those of Jung’s ideas that seem unsatisfactory or just plain wrong without dismissing Jung altogether.

The reason why there has been a concentration on the ‘feminine principle’ in recent Jungian writing is that it has provided a means to celebrate the specificity of women’s identity, life, and experience. In addition, having the notion of a ‘feminine principle’ in mind helps to make a critique of culture out of personal confrontations with it. The basic desire of feminists who are involved in Jungian psychology has been to refuse and refute the denigration of women that is perceived in analytical psychology, to bring the feminine gender in from the condescending margins, and to promote an alternative philosophy of life to that expressed in the power institutions of a male-dominated society.

Taken as a whole, and I realize I am generalizing, feminism which draws on Jung’s ideas stands out from other varieties, with which I feel more in sympathy, in two main ways. Both of these stem from Jung’s approach, resist eradication, and cause great difficulties. It is assumed that there is something eternal about femininity and, hence, about women; that women therefore, display certain essential transcultural and ahistorical characteristics; and that these can be described in psychological terms. What is omitted is the on-going role of the prevailing culture in the construction of the ‘feminine’ and a confusion develops between what is claimed to be eternal and what is currently observed to be the case.

It is here that the deadweight of the heritage of archetypal theory is felt. Jung assumed that there is something eternal about women and, hence, about femininity. As the feminist Jungian analyst Polly Young-Eisendrath writes: ‘Certain beliefs about difference – for example, about gender and racial differences – have influenced our thinking about the meaning of symbolic representations, behaviours, style, and manner of people who are alien to the roots of our psychology in Switzerland’.

I would like to say what I find problematic in the many attempts to locate eternal models or maps for the psychological activity of women in mythology and goddess imagery. When such imagery is used as a kind of role model or resource for a woman in her here-and-now pain and struggle, which is one thing. But when it is claimed that such endeavour is a reclamation of qualities and characteristics that once prevailed in human society only to be smashed by the patriarchy, then that is altogether more suspect. For it is a highly disputed point, to put it mildly, that such an era ever existed.

Could this be a case of taking myth too literally? And isn’t there a hidden danger here? For if men were to claim that they are in the direct line of psychic inheritance of the characteristics and qualities of gods and heroes, then we’d end up with the status quo, with things just as they are, for they couldn’t be any other way. As far as role-modelling and resource provision goes, surely any woman, even or especially an analyst, can perform this task for another woman.

The search for hidden sources of authority is a project constellated by what is seen as a flawed cultural tradition. But there may also be a ‘flaw’ in the project itself, for such a search demonstrates the very sense of weakness and lack of authority which it seeks to overcome. Engaging in a rivalrous search for female archetypes could lead to a new set of restrictions on female experience, as several writers have observed.

Trawling the recent literature, I have been struck by the massiveness of the feminine problematic, signified in numerous phrases such as: feminine elements of being, feminine modality of being, femininity of self, feminine ways of knowing, feminine authority, feminine assertion, feminine reflection, feminine dimensions of the soul, primal feminine energy pattern, feminine power, feminine response, feminine creativity, feminine mysteries, feminine body, feminine subjectivity, feminine transformation. I could have quadrupled the list; for ease of reference, I have subsumed all these terms under the general heading of the ‘feminine principle’.

Something oppressive has come into being – not, repeat not, because what is claimed as the content of the ‘feminine principle’ is oppressive but because celebrating the feminine has raised it to the status of an ego-ideal, leading to a simple and pointless reversal of power positions. Further, perhaps it is the shadow of feminism generally to make women feel inadequate when they don’t come up to its mark – or cannot emulate notable feminist figures. (4)

ANIMUS AND ANIMA – A PROPOSAL

There is an apparent consensus going around that everyone – male and female – has both animus and anima. Well, maybe. But what I want to propose is different to this trendy idea.

I say that animus and anima images are not of men and women because animus and anima qualities are ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. No – rather, for the individual woman or man, anatomy is a metaphor for the richness and potential of the ‘other’. A man will imagine what is ‘other’ to him in the symbolic form of a woman – a being with another anatomy. A woman will symbolize what is foreign to her in terms of the kind of body she does not herself have. The so-called contrasexuality is more something ‘contra-psychological’; anatomy is a metaphor for that.

But to fully benefit from his ideas of animus and anima these have to be subjected to a post-Jungian critical revision. Classical Jungian notions such as eternal and internal masculinity and femininity, which lead to the assumption of essential differences between the sexes, are not the most fruitful way to use Jung’s ideas. Instead, animus and anima represent the expansion of the roles available to both sexes. We can happily consider aggressive and assertive woman (such as athletes and activists) and nurturing and receptive men (fathers). Hence, we transform a traditional and repressive theory into something that supports an expansion of roles and behaviours for women and for men. Animus and anima become motors of progressive change.

But anatomy is absolutely not a metaphor for any particular emotional characteristic or set of characteristics. That depends on the individual and on whatever is presently outside her or his conscious grasp and hence in need of being represented by a personification of the opposite sex. The difference between you and your animus or anima is very different from the difference between you and a man or woman.

The whole gender debate suggests that we Jungians join with those who question whether heterosexuality itself should be taken as innate and therefore as something fundamental and beyond discussion, or whether it, too, has a non-biological dimension. Freud’ s perception was of an innate bisexuality followed later by heterosexuality.

Jung’s view was that man and woman are each incomplete without the other: heterosexuality is therefore a given. In this sense he differs from Freud’s emphasis on bisexuality as the natural state of mankind. In Freud’s approach, sexual identity arises from the enforced twin demands of reproduction and society. What I have been arguing shifts the concept of bisexuality from something undifferentiated (polymorphous or polyvalent) into a vision of there being available to all a variety of positions in relation to gender role.

If discriminations like these are not made, then those analytical psychologists who espouse the idea of innate, body-based, sex-specific psychologies, find themselves lined up with those groupings often referred to as the ‘New Right’ or conservative or traditional. This is the case in Britain and the US. Here, too, isn’t that possible? New Right assumptions about sex-specific psychology tend to be based on appeals to tradition and often have a romantic appeal but those of us working therapeutically need to be aware of the way in which the assumptions can be used to promote the notion of ‘order’ and of how women’s activities, in particular, are decisively limited. Men win – again.

ON INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS – THE PHENOMENON OF PROMISCUITY

What happens in private between the sexes is also an important source of developments in society. Sexuality, including fantasy, may be viewed as proactive and as a motor of resistance to unjust and oppressive conditions both for women and men.

For this reason I want to focus on sexual promiscuity.

Back in the 1960s, in the summer of love, we in the West didn’t talk about ‘promiscuity. The reference was to ‘non-possessive relating’ or ‘alternative families’ or ‘free love’. In the talk. That is to say, promiscuity was viewed as a political statement.

It is still hard to find much contemporary discussion of promiscuity in a Western context that does not take a negative line. The word that appears over and over again in the context of sex is ‘casual’. Casual sex is the term with which we are now most familiar.

Exercise 4: To be done on private. I ask you to think of the last time you experienced absolute and total lust for another person (define lust as you like). What happened? If you acted on it, what feelings did you have at the time, and now? If you didn’t act on your experience of lust, what feelings did you have at the time, and now?

Promiscuity is the background phenomenon that since the late nineteenth century has underpinned numerous discussions that couple politics and sexuality. Conventional accounts of intimate relations praise them when they radiate constancy, longevity and fidelity. But more radical accounts suggest that ownership and control of the other are also critically important. The best known of these was Friedrich Engels’ 1884 OriginoftheFamily,PrivatePropertyandtheStatein which he states that the first class opposition that appears in history coincides with ‘the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage’ especially in ‘the possessing classes.’

Today’s monogamy may be seen as chiming and co-symbolizing with neo-liberal market economics and with implicit and explicit claims by powerful Western countries and corporations to ‘possess’ planetary resources. Monogamy, it can be argued, is therefore implicated in a wide range of injustices – environmental, economic and ethical. Now, this point can be made with greater or lesser passion, for monogamy certainly has its merits and cannot only be reduced to the level of political tyranny.

The corollary – that non-monogamy is correlated with sustainability, equality and social justice – remains, perforce, untested though hugely suggestive. Ownership is a tendentious perspective on relationships and geopolitics alike; but public strategies for sustainability, such as the principle of ‘global commons’, can be seen to co-symbolize with non-monogamy in the private sphere.

If we consider, for example, the Midrashic story of Lilith we can understand the possible relations between politics and sexual behaviour a bit more fluidly. Lilith was Adam’s first consort who was created from the earth at the same time as Adam. She was unwilling to give up her equality and argued with Adam over the position in which they should have intercourse – Lilith insisting on being on top. ‘Why should I lie beneath you’ she argued, ‘when I am your equal since both of us were created from dust?’ Adam was determined and began to rape Lilith who called out the magic name of God, rose into the air, and flew away. Eve was then created. Lilith’s later career was – not surprisingly – as an evil she-demon who comes secretly to men in the night, hence being responsible for nocturnal emissions. She was also a murderer of newborns. But in the end, after the destruction of the Temple, Lilith enters a relationship with God as a sort of mistress.

My point is that this kind of material can be taken as much as an expression of the influence of the sexual on the political as the other way around. The experience people have of the sexual is also a motor of their politicality, political style and political values. Sexual experience and its associated imagery express an individual’s psychological approach to political functioning.

I think this is illustrated by the image of the Palestinian paramedic Razan Ashraf al Najar in Gaza in 2018 running towards danger to treat a wounded man. She was shot by an Israeli sniper.

PROMISCUITY AND PSYCHOTHERAPY/ANALYSIS

With these thoughts in mind, I want to turn to our own profession of psychotherapy, both in and of itself and as representative of the wider culture. My accusation is that, when it comes to promiscuity, psychotherapy as an institution and many (but not all) psychotherapists as individuals are hypocritical. In terms of the etymology of the word ‘hypocrisy’, they are play acting or feigning something. As well as scoring points, I am interested in probing this phenomenon.

It is significant that sex outside of relationship is largely untheorized by analysts and therapists – or, if there is a theoretical position taken, it is invariably in terms of psychopathology, of an alleged fear of intimacy, problems in attachment (‘ambivalent attachment’) and relationship, perversion and so on. There is a contemporary absence of consideration of what my late friend the relational psychoanalystMuriel Dimen referred to as ‘sex-as-force’.

I think it is interesting to ask whether there might be something in the fundamental thinking or set-up of psychotherapy that leads to a carnality-averse conservatism. We have learned, mostly from Foucault that, for every majority discourse, there is likely to be a subjugated minority discourse. In psychotherapy – as in society – the majority discourse is relational. Hence, the subjugated minority discourse will be the opposite of relational; in the language of this talk, promiscuous.

I have wondered if the silence of psychotherapists on the topic of promiscuity reflects a kind of sexual horror – sotheytranslateeverythingintoadiscourseofrelationalityinwhich‘persons’getsplitofffrom‘sex’.

Putting these ideas – of hypocrisy and a subjugated non-relational discourse – together, exposes the secret moral conservatism of numerous psychotherapeutic clinicians compared to their often very different sexual behaviour as persons. We could begin to understand this more deeply by seeing it as envy on the part of the therapist of the sexual experimentation and out-of-order behaviour related to them by their clients.

The matter comes to a head when psychotherapists engage with infidelity (‘cheating’) on the part of their clients. Whilst not denying that some therapists, particularly couple therapists, understand cheating as a systemic phenomenon, the overall psychotherapeutic take on the matter is that it is a symptom of something else, some problem in the cheat, usually of a narcissistic kind. The cheated upon usually feels immense pain and the cheat often feels great guilt. These are strong affects for the therapist to engage with. Hence, unsurprisingly perhaps, what we see in the majority of instances is a counter-resistant valorization of relational longevity and an utterly literal understanding of ‘object constancy’ at the expense of relational quality. Provided you are in a longstanding relationship, you are, to all intents and purposes.

Is that true?!

To end, I will simply put up a slide that repeats the structure of the talk.

INTRODUCTION

MEN AND POLITICS

IN PRAISE OF GENDER CONFUSION

JUNGIAN ANALYSIS AND GENDER: BEYOND THE FEMININE PRINCIPLE

ANIMUS AND ANIMA – A PROPOSAL

ON INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS – THE PHENOMENON OF PROMISCUITY

Thank you for listening.


The above talk was delivered at the conference entitled ‘Jungian Psychology: East and West, encountering differences’ at Otemon Gakuin University, Osaka, Japan on November 2-3, 2019


*This transcript posted at Gynocentrism.com with permission from the author.